8 Thoughts for Surviving Holidays in the Valley of Suck

We didn’t know last Christmas would be our last one with my wife, Heather.  We didn’t “know” but Heather and I both had the feeling it was a good possibility. The last doctor's appointment did not bode well. Like today, I wrote on the eve of a new Star Wars movie.  I wrote a year ago about “Saying No to Star Wars” and I said the reason I said no was because the there was a bigger yes - I needed to live according to a bigger “YES!” which was Heather and my kids.

I have reflected on that often this past year - the power that comes when we say “YES” to something deep within us - in our soul - something which gives our lives true meaning and purpose.  Saying no to Star Wars wasn’t really all that hard - all I was saying “no” to was that I wasn’t going to see the midnight showing.  THAT didn’t make me any less a fan - it set a new tone for my life though, one which I have been living more and more each day and one which has me living more within the framework of faith, trust, and grace.

I am saying no once again this year to opening night of Star Wars: Rogue One because I’m saying yes to peace in me - in my soul.  I am saying yes to a “peace that passes understanding,” and "no" to a culture in our world which orders our lives around entertainment.  I will still go to see Rogue One and probably, I’ll get back to going to opening nights in the future.  But, in my journey in the valley of suck, I’ve learned to listen to my soul - to practice stillness - and make note of the lessons God’s Spirit reveals.  Here are eight thoughts that I’ve had in the valley of suck from facing the holidays last year and in facing them this year.

  1. Make the change now.  Don’t wait until January 1.
Last December I had a doctor’s appointment for a check-up and found a few issues, one of which was being a bit overweight.  Rather than wait till January 1, I started in on her recommended diet and a new workout routine.  Not only did I drop 30 pounds in three months, I’ve kept it off and learned to eat better.  Unfortunately, I had a dangerous spike in my blood pressure just a few months later.  It might have been worse if I hadn’t changed my behavior.  BUT I’ve learned through the years, I stick better with new behaviors/goals/habits if I tackle them when identified.  
  1. Make small changes.  Don’t try to do it all at once.
From the above example, I started with small changes: first, getting doctor input and second, picking the right diet that focused on portion control and simple changes.  After that was underway, I added a change in exercising.  There was more than enough change I couldn’t control a year ago.  I could handle the small changes.

  1. Start with easy.  Don’t go for the biggest task or goal.
Sometimes this means ignoring things or finding someone to help.  The easier things are, the simpler and less stressful.  I know many people wanted to cook for our family during Heather’s illness and following her death.  Problem was/is, none of us had the same diet.  Heather could only eat certain things, I had my issues, my daughter is vegan and my son can eat anything.  The easiest thing?  Gift cards for grocery stores and Subway.

  1. Go slowly.  Don’t try to rush your emotions.
Grief takes time.  I wish you could skip through it but really, you can’t.  They go at their own pace and for caregivers that is...well...it is damn slowly.  Accept it and let them come.  I didn’t get hit with anger and the “why” questions till last month - five months after Heather died.  That was the right time.
  1. Get your emotions out.  Don’t hold them in…(Soda rule: contents are under pressure)
This relates to number 4 too.  Grief can be like shaking up a soda can or bottle - don’t give it an outlet and you’ll find the contents are under ever increasing pressure.  Express them in healthy ways so they won’t come out in unhealthy ones.  For some of us, a punching bag is a good investment and for others it maybe poetry.

  1. Honor some old traditions.  Don’t feel you have to do everything.
We decorated the tree right after we got back from Thanksgiving and played the same Christmas CD’s and we’ll watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve.  Once I put the stockings up though, I was done.  Not putting up Heather’s stocking broke me.  Half the decoration are in their boxes.  That is okay.

  1. Add a new tradition or two.  Don’t try to repeat the stories of Christmases past.
Hanging at Hogwarts and enjoying Butterbeer
At Thanksgiving, we chose to honor one of Heather’s dreams for our family to go the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando.  We had saved up and so the kids and I followed through on it.  For Christmas, we’ll be in a church where I’m not pastoring for the first time in 20 years and we’ll be volunteering.  Some things are the same but some things are new.

  1. Keep faith.  Don’t ignore the spiritual aspects of the season/holiday.
Each holiday and season, I think, comes with a focus and something to reflect upon.  Take the opportunity built into these times to seek after God.  Of course, there is room to question God, to wrestle with faith but it is also a time to rest in the tradition of the season and holiday.  There are many who lived before you and I, and they told the stories.  Keep faith.

Much love to you and your’s this season from the valley of suck.


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